Cisco Canada and the City of Toronto have come together to launch Digital Canopy, an investment of over $1 million of in-kind technology and services to expand Wi-Fi access in the city’s low-income residential tower communities.

Funded through Cisco’s Country Digital Acceleration (CDA) program in collaboration with Cisco’s Toronto Innovation Labs, which consists of a team of five, Digital Canopy can potentially connect 6,600 units and approximately 13,000 Torontonians living in low-income residential tower communities with free internet for up to one year, Wayne Cuervo, director, Cisco Toronto’s Innovation Labs, told IT World Canada in an interview.

The Cisco CDA program has active national and regional level initiatives in 36 countries around the world, aimed at providing frontline relief and critical support to digital infrastructure during the COVID-19 global pandemic.

As part of the launch, Cisco and the City brought together network providers, internet service providers, and managed service providers which include BAI Canada, Bell Canada, OnX Canada, Toronto Mesh, Beanfield Metroconnect, Southwinds Engineering, and Century Concrete Products.

Cisco is deploying its Meraki Wi-Fi access points in an attempt to offer fast connections, high user capacity and extensive coverage. The performance will vary based on time of day, internet conditions, and the number of users on the network. Cisco’s Innovation Labs and BAI have a combined team of network professionals ensuring that users receive the best possible service available from the Cisco Meraki wireless network, says Cuervo.

“We found that residents without regular internet access face barriers to receiving public health information and support services. So that sets the preface of why we moved to create a partnership with Cisco and other companies in collaborating to provide free internet access on a temporary basis for many low-income Torontonians in their residential tower communities,” explained Lawrence Eta, chief technology officer, City of Toronto, in an interview with IT World

In January 2020, the City of Toronto passed the city’s digital infrastructure plan to drive the city’s commitment to use digital infrastructure to foster equity, inclusion, and accessibility so that everybody could feel that they are a part of Canada’s evolving digital economy, Eta told IT World. The digital canopy is one way the city is modernizing to enable innovative delivery of service so everybody can stay connected and to bridge the existing digital divide, said Eta.

The first Digital Canopy site is now live at 200 and 210 Woolner Avenue, enabling internet access for approximately 2,000 residents in this Rockcliffe-Smyth community. The number of people who are actually connected to the Wi-Fi hotspots at the site is currently unknown. “It’s a new initiative and usage is ramping up as awareness grows and we’re excited to see how that continues to develop as more of the community begin to use it,” said Cuervo. 

Assembled and installed Cisco Meraki access point at 200 Woolner Ave.
Source: Cisco

Additional sites in a number of neighbourhoods – including Thorncliffe Park, West Hill, Scarborough Village and others – will also receive access under Digital Canopy. By the end of 2020, there will be up to 25 Wi-Fi hotspot sites across Toronto, according to a press release.

“We recognize that this is a short term initiative, but we are looking at ways to provide much more sustainable aspects in terms of how we can use the city’s assets to really try to become more sustainable in providing internet access. So, there still needs to be a long term component. We’re working with various different levels of government and having conversations with other cities across Canada to look at how they have deployed public Wi-Fi or public internet. So we’re looking at different models and there’ll be more information to come out in the future,” said Eta. 

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